Friday, July 31, 2009

Date Night

Yes, we're an old married couple. Date night started with . . . Confession? You know, it's hard to make time for all kinds of maintenance in a busy family, so cleaning our souls was a good use of part of our set-aside time.

Then it was dinner at Bonefish Grill--yum! As good as the food was the conversation, one without logistics (who is driving where when, which child needs a dentist appointment, that sort of thing).

Instead of a restaurant dessert, Len and I bought ice cream and took it to the pond. We ate it there at dusk with a few other park-goers and many residents: geese, a beaver, bats, fireflies, water striders, and frogs.

And last, home to a (relatively) quiet house. We could have played a game, but watched a movie instead.

Re-connecting can only happen when we make time for each other. Spending money (eating out, going to a show) is pleasant enough, but it's the TIME and the company that make a great date. It's a little easier in summer, but the effort is worth it any time of year. Plan some hours for just you and your spouse--put it on your calendar today!

Even Slower

It seems I made even less progress on official planning day #2, but that's probably because I was at the "spread it all out and read pick and choose" stage. I did make some important decisions (mostly history), but there's a long way to go yet.

The good news is that now I've got the planning bug, so I'll be itching to get school figured out, wanting to spend time getting ready.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

At least that's what I'm telling myself after my first official school planning day! Even though it doesn't look dramatic, progress WAS made:

  • My first task is always setting out my weeks, my calendar. I map out when we'll start and end the school year, and plan our breaks and holidays. Nowadays I include a master schedule consolidating the dates for our homeschool, the boys' school, VCU, and even the local public school (It's handy to know when the neighbors might be ringing the bell!). After much labor Tuesday night, I see that this year we'll have about 32 official weeks.
  • With the calendar written, I'm able to map out some finite subjects (books we use from beginning to end in one year) like grammar and science. And yesterday I did organize the weekly grammar pages. Althouth that was only a 10 or 15 minute project, it's still encouraging to see something written down. Today I'm planning to tackle more of that nitty-gritty outlining.
  • I spent much of the day cleaning the school room. It's a more dynamic space than my desk (previously known as the black hole), so the piles weren't as deep, but I still managed to unearth some ancient treasures: thank you notes (waiting to be sent) from November 2008, Lenten crafts, "composted" papers (old enough to just glance at and toss in recycling), and some medical records from January.
  • I exchanged multiple emails with the members of this year's writing co-op, and started looking through my newest IEW materials. We have several important details to iron out, but I'm excited about starting. The accountability of a co-op is so helpful in getting me to follow through with what I already want to do.
  • I started writing out goals/subjects/ideas for my three students. Rebecca won't be five until November, but she is ready for a full-fledged kindergarten experience.
  • I looked through a few catalogues and was happy to confirm that I don't need to buy much to be ready for this year. A benefit of fifteen years of homeschooling: I already have a lot of supplies!
Today will be about setting goals and dreaming big, about all the things I'd like us to accomplish this year. Then I'll tackle the reality and see how much I can get on paper. And I think I need to be specific, especially with the fun, non-core subjects. It's one thing to say we'll do craft projects every Friday and another to map out which ones when. The latter takes more work upfront, but otherwise my enthusiasm rarely carries the day all year.

I thought I wasn't going to post Small Successes this week, but I do believe this post qualifies. To see the achievements of other moms, go here.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Me and My House: July 2009

This week at the end of July:
  • Rebecca: special times with Mom. Today we bought wonderful corn and nectarines at Whole Foods. Tomorrow we'll bake her favorite muffins: banana chocolate chip.
  • Marianna: Irish dance camp (1/2 day). She was practically jumping out of her skin with glee when I picked her up today. "It was SO MUCH FUN! I can't wait for tomorrow!"
  • Joseph: a full week of Boy Scout camp (back on Saturday).
  • Daniel: lacrosse camp with kids and coaches from school (full day). Lax is actually a spring sport there, but this is a good chance to work on skills. There will be two 12th grade goalies this year, and Daniel is training as a 9th grader. He'll potentially have a big role the following year.
  • David: driver's ed (online before scheduling behind-the-wheel) and work at the bike shop. He and some friends will be hanging out around a fire pit in the backyard on Wednesday. A fire is legal in our county IF you're cooking over it, just one good reason for marshmallows!
  • Lauren: in Puerto Rico with her college roommate and family. So far she arrived at a much delayed 3:30 a.m., went to a beach with "crystal clear water and sand like velvet", and hiked to a waterfall in the rainforest where she jumped off cliffs into the water surrounded by banana and citrus trees. And that's just the 2 day (of 10) report! I'm looking forward to the pictures.
  • Me: much more mundane than the lives of my children, it seems. I'll be driving to camps and getting some groceries to fill up our vacation-bare fridge. I'm actually looking forward to some school planning time, generously provided by my wonderful husband.
  • Len: working hard, as usual, at home and the clinic. We're going on a date Thursday night; it's great having so many babysitter-level teenagers in the family!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beach Bliss

We got back from the Jersey shore last night at about 10:30 p.m. (stayed there for mass). Joe was off to Boy Scout camp early this morning and already our trip seems ages away.

I am treasuring some beach memories, though, like:

  • Daniel and Joseph wrestling in the ocean with their cousin. I'm talking about pushing, pulling, holding down, throwing, etc. in (and under) the waves. I outlawed sand throwing, but they were happy with all the other "rough stuff". I haven't seen them play that way before, but all three had a great time wearing themselves out.
  • My cousin orchestrated the construction of a sand castle with many fancy decorations (pebbles, shells) while I dozed in a chair.
  • Holding Becca's hands while she leapt and squealed in the water. She spent most of her time digging, digging, digging. I enjoyed watching her focused activity.
  • Watching Marianna play with Becca in the waves (at four, Rebecca doesn't even go to her waist without a partner) and sand before inevitably spending time with a new kid. That girl is so outgoing and people-oriented!
  • We girls went out for ice cream while the boys were at a card tournament. Afterwards we walked to the playground. Rebecca is learning to pump on a swing, and my cousin's adorable Havanese learned to climb a plastic "hill". Then she played crazy-run-around-in-circles-chase-me-chase-me-you-can't-catch-me doggie--it was hilarious!
  • There were fireflies out most evenings. Next to the playground the girls chased them on a broad lawn interspersed with a few trees and backed by greenery; it looked like a fairyland.
  • With rip tides a danger, we had two days when the life guards wouldn't allow people into the water past about mid-thigh. On Saturday when the beach was crowded, the guards (at least four on our section of waterfront) were frequently whistling and gesturing to bring people closer in or move them further away from the currents. Sometimes they had to climb down from their tall stands and herd the crowd like so many sheep. What a tough job that must be, keeping so many safe, especially in rough water!
  • My cousin's husband often works from home, so he's been at the beach (instead of in SC) most of the summer. He spends much of his time on the phone and the computer, but we had some nice chats, too. He's awesome at "uncling" as well (although my big kids insist he's actually a "first-cousin-once-removed-in-law")--telling stories, taking the boys out, and making games out of chores. (Yes, there was some jostling to see who would "get" to clean off the surf board...) What a treat it was to have him there!
  • My cousin and I usually bob waves and enjoy girl-talk, but we didn't get to it until the last day, so we couldn't go out far. Chatting in the ocean, even in a crowd, is made private by all the wave noise.

I hope you're making some special memories this summer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Small Successes: the Travelers' Edition


"It's important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

I'm on the road again! After two days home, I've gone with several children to my cousins' place at the Jersey shore. We're having fun in spite of today's rain, and yesterday was wonderful and relaxing. We enjoyed a good story on the way up and then spent time at the beach.

The home challenges are limited when one is mostly not there, but I managed to rack up a few points nonetheless:

  1. I ran many more errands than usual. Monday included violin, the orthodontist, the post office, tae kwon do, and the grocery store. On Tuesday I visited SIX stores looking for both a pair of flip flops (optional) and hiking boots (which HAD to be purchased RIGHT NOW for Boy Scout camp). Other destinations: the craft store, the library, and the doctors' office for two school physicals. Then I finished unpacking from NY and repacking for NJ.
  2. I ordered this year's history and science books. The summer is flying by, but August should be quiet enough for planning.
  3. Without following my usual meal plan, I pulled together two decent last-minute meals.
Cheer on some other success storytellers here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Random Trip Tips

Well, we got back yesterday after a 12 hour drive (dinner at 8:00!). Today is all about recovery, including laundry, unpacking, a violin lesson, a trip to the orthodontist, and tae kwon do. Maybe I'll throw in a trip to the grocery store, although my mother-in-law had some essentials awaiting our arrival (wonderful woman!). All this while trying to resist the light summer reading I took on vacation but started just the last day or so...

Although I don't think I can string any coherent thoughts together, I do have a few atypical trip-taking tips that might be useful for someone else.
  1. We travel to Saranac in a convoy, driving first to MD to redistribute luggage and cousins between my sister's van and ours. One of our best tools for convoy driving is a set of walkie-talkies. When we're in an area with no cell phone service, the walkie-talkies are invaluable. And, really, they are quicker than dialing and ringing and picking up. At least once a shouted, "This exit! Now!" has saved a delay. Especially if we keep the vehicles in sight of each other, we can negotiate meals, potty breaks, routes, etc. with ease.
  2. For Saranac, with its large crowd, house, and grounds, my school bell is a big help. Its ringing means, "Come!" and we typically use it to summon the family for meals or bedtime prayer.
  3. Since the house is not our own, we bring a small cross to help everyone focus at prayer time.
  4. On the way up, my cooler stays chilled with frozen food. While we're away I rinse some milk jugs and refill them with water to make ice packs for the return journey, when I'll still have a little food to keep cool.
  5. I have a packing list (3 columns, small font) that I print in advance (a week or more) so I can add destination-specific items or tasks as I think of them. I try to keep it in my planner, and I use colored paper to make it easy to find. I know lots of people use lists; the advance printing is what I find most helpful.
We had a wonderful week together. I hope your summer travels are as blessed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Pack for Saranac

I'm taking a caffeine break (5:30 p.m. mass tonight!) as we get ready to leave early in the morning for the trek to Saranac Lake in upstate NY. I'm officially past the cheerful, relaxed not-ready stage (NRS) and into the anxious, getting cranky NRS.

Deep breath. Okay.

Here's what we're gearing up for: my parents, all my siblings, and all the grandchildren (plus a few more folks) in one sprawling house (12 bedrooms!). We'll be 33 in all! This is our third year, and for the first time my brother from California is coming with his wife.

My children (and me, too, of course) look forward to Saranac all year. Mostly it's about the cousins, but the place is amazing, too. Here are pictures from our past visits.

(Note: I'm missing some good shots because I don't want to post recognizable photos of other peoples' children until I get permission.)

The view from the house. The lake and two docks are maybe 10 feet from the deck.
My brother-in-law brings his sailboat.Boats of all sorts abound. (Not shown: Len's kayak)There's always an expedition (or two or three...) to Tommy's Rock.The view from Tommy's Rock. Note my brother-in-law's sailboat and my sister's windboard, with our house on the right.The anchored raft.A trip to Donnelly's is required. Just one flavor per day meant some (ahem) negotiating last year. This is Becca in 2007. It got even messier, believe me--hey, she was 2!

Well, back to work now. We'll be gone a full week, and it's unlikely I'll be posting anything new while we're away. I hope your week is as fun (and noisy and cool and conversational and connected) as ours. God bless you!

The Question

A while back Ann wrote about the question she asked her husband, and I decided to try it for myself.

Len answered with two simple ideas, not even surprises. They're acts I've known he appreciates, but hadn't been doing consistently (or even often). I've been consciously trying to follow through this week.

It's all about mindfullness. There's always room for improvement. Good can keep getting better.

Are you willing to ask?

Anne's post is lovely and thoughtful, but if you just can't make the time to get over there, her question was, "How could I be a better wife to you?" Thanks to Elizabeth for pointing to it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Small Successes


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."
  1. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, I pulled over when I got drowsy while driving, even though I was less than an hour from home. I closed my eyes for 20 minutes, and although I didn't sleep the whole time, I was definitely drifting in la-la land. Hopefully now that I've taken this baby step I'll be willing to always drive only when I'm fit for it.
  2. I excavated my desk. It looks better than it has since maybe the first year we moved into this house (almost 16 years ago!). If you haven't read the post, at least go check out the before and after photos.
  3. After three trips to three stores on three successive days, I think I'm finally done buying groceries for our big trip to Saranac Lake. No, wait--I still need to get to the bagel store (1/2 price after 3:30!) to stock up for Sunday morning breakfast in the car. Oh, well--getting there.
I hope you're having a fabulous summer week! Find more inspiration and encouragement here.

Gone Paintin'

My sister's husband is in an Irish (rock?) band, and its last performance for a long while is tomorrow. As I heard it, the whistle player is going to grad school, which apparently is incompatible with rehearsals and late night pub playing. Or maybe he's going away to school; I don't know.

ANYWAY, since they know my David is interested in Irish music (among many other genres) and has never watched this particular band perform, K & D invited him to NY to do just that. Aren't they great?

David took the metro to the train to the shuttle to another train, and was picked up just a mile or two from my sister's new house. New for her, anyway--it's actually a rambling old place (with land) in need of MUCH work. My son will be earning his keep by stripping wallpaper, painting, and doing whatever else needs doing. He's big and strong, with computer and bike mechanic skills; I don't think they'll run out of work for him!

While we miss David, there was also some glee (especially from back seat riders) that his trip north is happening right now, because it means the NY portion of the family will be taking him to Saranac Lake. On Sunday we're driving to upstate NY (in the Adirondacks) to join my parents, siblings, and assorted cousins (33 people total!) for a week in a giant house. Without David we have just (just!) 13 people spread between two minivans (15 seats)...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Joseph joined Boy Scouts just a few months ago, and is really enjoying it. This week he's participating in a 5 day workshop (?), working towards a communications merit badge.

Yesterday he gave a speech about the best way to eat ice cream. Since visual aids were required he brought in cones, sprinkles, sauce, and scoops. His three minute presentation lasted just a minute and a half, probably due to the typical banes of beginners: forgetting some points and talking too fast.

Today Joe is supposed to speak for 6-8 minutes, and someone suggested homeschooling. He agreed, knowing that at least there is plenty to say. ;-) Last night I helped him organize his thoughts in outline form. His practices at home have gone well; he's been working hard, and I'm proud of him.

I started typing up his outline for the blog, figuring that OF COURSE you would be interested, but now I'm not so sure. Suffice it to say Joe gave an overview of homeschooling, including schedules, subjects, teaching methods, and advantages and disadvantages. Fascinating stuff! ;-)

UPDATED: Sounds like the speech went well, with appropriate audience reactions to the high points (no homework, four fewer weeks of school, that sort of thing). Joe zoomed through it, but pacing takes practice.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Do I Blame Myself?

Why is it, "I look bad in this outfit," instead of, "This outfit looks bad on me?" See the difference?

Even though overall I have a healthy self-image, that bad attitude can raise its head anytime. (Can you tell I've been trying to buy a swimsuit?)

It's just not rational! And as I complained to my eldest, she pointed out that even young, beautiful women (like herself and her friends) are rarely 100% comfortable with how they look. Why are we like this?

I wonder (about myself, at least), whether this dissatisfaction is about setting too high a standard or not loving myself enough or PRIDE. How important should appearance be, anyway?

Monday, July 6, 2009

All Things Are Possible

My desk in January: My desk a few days later:My goal: to spend 10 minutes a day cleaning up and then maintaining order.

The reality: two weeks of overall improvement followed by six and a half months moving back and forth between photo 1 and photo 2.

It's all over now! This is how I spent a large portion of my holiday weekend: Look, look! No boxes underneath! Everything has been sorted to its proper location (mostly other areas of the house). I did pile some papers on the school table, my next area to conquer.

Lots and lots of paper went into the recycling, too. If you keep it around long enough (I found some 2007 material!), most of it becomes obsolete, anyway. I did some actual decluttering, too.

This sight will keep me smiling for days.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Marianna and a friend found this critter in the front yard. Aren't the fake eye spots impressive (and maybe scary enough to deter a predator)? At this angle (photo below) it's a little easier to see the real head and eyes.
This weird insect was crawling over the newly laid mulch yesterday. It tried to grab a blade of grass or small stick whenever one was put near those claw/jaw/curvy things.Now look at how big it is! That's Joseph's hand there for perspective.I haven't yet done the research to find out exactly what these are. For the moment it's enough to marvel at finding something new (to us) in suburbia.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Note to Self: Mind Your Tongue!

Usually when I'm not "minding my tongue" I'm speaking harshly to someone I love (yes, my children). This morning I found some Scripture with a beautiful image to inspire me to more self-control:

"A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit." Proverbs 15:4

Yesterday I practiced a less typical (for me) sin by making a cutting remark about someone who wasn't even present, which jump-started more remarks. Ugh! The thing about wrongful speech is that it can't be taken back--it's done. Yes, I can be sorry, and yes, I can be forgiven, but how much better to not say it in the first place!

The Bible has LOTS to say about this. Below are just a few verses I found that can be used for inspiration, warning, or reproof (for ourselves), depending on how well we've been behaving lately:

"He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile." 1 Peter 3:10

"There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

"The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly." Proverbs 15:2

"He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble." Proverbs 21:23

"Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit." Psalm 34:13

Maybe I Should Leave Town More Often?

While I was gone FOR ONE DAY, Len took the children to the library, the pool, and a bluegrass concert (complete with a picnic) in the park. And that's just the stuff I know about! If he did anything crazy like making waffles for breakfast, they might ask me to turn in my parent-at-home badge...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Small Successes

"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."
  1. I set up (and followed through on) play dates this week: Becca (fun in the wading pool), Joseph (drove him to Maryland for two nights with his cousin and set up a day with an almost nearby friend), and me (my sister-in-law and I regularly share walks, tea, and talking). Marianna doesn't need official help--there are a zillion girls her age in the neighborhood.
  2. After the bread pan began leaking irreparably (and as it turns out, irreplaceably as well), I researched, bought, tried out, and then returned a new bread machine. Then I bought two new loaf pans and made peace with the fact that I'm going to have to put a little more effort into homemade bread when I want it. It's just about finding another routine, right?
  3. Part of David's birthday present is a day trip to the NJ beach to visit with a West Coast cousin. We came up last night; I had my caffeine at 6:00 p.m. just to be safe. ;-) Today is for hanging out (they're playing guitars and singing Beatles and Carbon Leaf tunes right now), beach time, and dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant here (just the two cousins).
What are your successes this week? Share the encouragement here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More Baking

I did post the recipe for no sugar added fruit pie over at my cooking blog. There's also a story about my hideous pie crust debacle. If you're interested in reading all four posts there (from yesterday and today), it's probably easiest to go straight to the blog instead of clicking the link for each separate recipe.